MTSU Integrates CCSS into General Education Requirements

In academic year 2012-2013, a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) was formed at Middle Tennessee State University to study the K-12 Common Core State Standards and the implications for MTSU’s General Education Program.

The Common Core Standards constitute a dramatic shift from previous practices in curriculum and instruction. While these sweeping K-12 reforms will affect many areas of higher education, the implications are most obvious for General Education. Within a few years, many of MTSU’s freshmen will be entering the university after participating in this redesigned and rigorous K-12 curriculum that emphasizes close reading and analysis of complex texts, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and real world application of content knowledge. General Education Programs should capitalize on the opportunity to provide these students with a challenging and engaging curriculum.

A Faculty Learning Community was chosen as the appropriate first step in addressing the new Common Core State Standards because MTSU has an established FLC program in place. Faculty Learning Communities are composed of faculty from multiple disciplines whose common purpose is to focus on a teaching and learning topic of importance to the academic community. FLC members meet, study, share research and results, and ultimately produce a body of work—both individually and collectively—that can be shared with others through publication, presentation, or some other form of outreach. FLC facilitators and faculty receive modest monetary stipends for their participation.

To take advantage of this established Faculty Learning Community culture at MTSU, eight faculty members were recruited to participate in the General Education/Common Core FLC, representing the Departments of English, Speech and Theatre, Mathematical Sciences, History, and Psychology. These faculty were selected because they served as coordinators of high enrollment General Education courses and/or they were already actively involved in various initiatives with K-12 teachers. These faculty members were also chosen because of their commitment to excellence in teaching in the General Education Program. The FLC was facilitated by the Director of General Education and the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. The Associate Dean of the College of Education served as an advisor to the group.

The group determined that its primary goal for the year, in addition to studying the new Common Core Standards, would be to begin the process of mapping the Standards to the TBR General Education Outcomes. The primary resources used by the group included Understanding Common Core State Standards, by John Kendall; the national web site for the Common Core http://www.corestandards.org/; and the Tennessee Common Core web site http://www.tncore.org/about_common_core.aspx.

A major challenge identified by the FLC members as they attempted to integrate the Common Core and General Education outcomes is the tension between content and process. As one faculty member noted, “How will faculty give up coverage as we increase attention to process and analysis?” Another faculty member wrote that studying the Common Core “contributed to a subtle but important shift in the way I think about teaching and the general education requirements. Common Core moves you away from thinking of the Gen Ed classes as an opportunity to fill empty heads with content knowledge and moves you toward thinking of Gen Ed classes as the environment for teaching critical thinking skills. On one level, I've always viewed the general education history classes as a key component in teaching students to think and write critically and analytically and as a bridge from high school to upper division work. But Common Core moves you away from worrying about which facts they don't know (‘I can't believe they don't know when the Civil War was fought!’) to focusing on research and critical thinking skills that help them to be good historians.”

The Gen Ed/Common Core FLC members also discussed how the Common Core might result in revisions to the types of assignments and assessments developed by university faculty, particularly revisions that could add to the faculty workload. FLC members noted that “improvement is needed in the sophistication and breadth of course assessments,” but also posed the question, “How will faculty find the time to require and assess assignments that place greater emphasis on Common Core expectations which necessarily involve larger amounts of reading, writing, and grading?”

During the current academic year, the Faculty Learning Community participants are involved in an Academic Affairs funded Work Group to complete the mapping/curriculum crosswalk between the Common Core Standards and the TBR General Education outcomes for selected courses, with the goal of piloting a revision of current General Education outcomes in one or more content areas. This work is scheduled to be completed by the end of the 2014 spring semester.  Take a look at the Math Crosswalk draft.

This project has been possible because of support from the academic administration, a well-established Faculty Learning Community culture, and the presence of faculty willing to take on the challenges and opportunities presented by implementation of the Common Core Standards.